2008 // USA // James Toback // June 13, 2009 // Theatrical Print
B - It's tempting to dismiss James Toback's absorbing documentary Tyson as an unapologetic hagiography of former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson. The film is narrated and produced by the champ himself, and it doesn't merely gloss over Tyson's rape conviction, but permits him to hurl insults at his alleged victim. Yet Toback's canny approach does much more than solidify a sympathetic characterization of the man. The director interviews Tyson from an indulgent distance, using the footage as the key component of an ambitious and unexpectedly personalized tale. Tyson recounts his life and expounds on his views in sprawling monologues replete with malapropisms, upwellings of rage, and moments of poetic clarity. Toback's camera swallows Tyson's version of events whole, but also devours his eccentricities and slumbering-lion features with a blend of awe and puzzlement. Refreshingly, the director is less concerned with hewing to a Fallen Sports Hero narrative arc than capturing the specifics of his subject matter with passion. The film reinforces the enduring wonder of Tyson's athleticism with a triumphal style, but offers its revelations in a reserved manner, allowing the viewer the freedom to mull over, discount, or titter at them.